Scavenger Hunt #28 – Meal

For the Meal theme, I had PLENTY of backups – a friend of mine started a “so, what are y’all eating in this times of lockdown and quarantine?” group, so I had a ton of pictures to choose from, if necessary.

I went for the slightly less obvious theme of “meal preparation” – we made some version of chicken parmigiana, and since this requires quite a bit of setup, I thought it was a good idea. I like taking pictures of that sort of things from above – it gives information, and there’s no “out of focus” issue. Here, the preparation took enough space that getting everything in the picture was a bit of a challenge with my widest lens (which is… not that wide), but I managed still without too much acrobatics. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensPentax D FA 24-70mm F2.8
Focal length24mm
Exposure time1/60 s

There was a surprisingly high amount of edition on that picture: as you can see, the setup is pretty cramped, and I ended up having a part of my sink and a part of the yellow surface part of the pictures, which I didn’t want. Fixing that was not hard, but it was somewhat time-intensive.

Other than that, I don’t have many opinions about this picture. I like that the bottom shows a bit of story-telling by giving the coating sequence, but the picture itself feels fairly banal.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Meal Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Cozy

Cozy was tough for me, because my mood during this Hunt was far from cozy. So I’ll admit that this is a case of “finding something that can remotely fit the theme and ship it”. The first “post-soft-lockdown” outing we did was to go see a pond with frogs, so we saw the pond with frogs and I decided that this particular frog DID look fairly cozy.

Then… I’m not a telephoto shooter, essentially – I have one, but it’s a cheap one (advantage: it’s lighter than my main lens; drawback: it kind of lacks light and it’s very fiddly), and I didn’t have it with me on that day. I find telephoto lenses to be generally heavy (well. Physics accounts for that, mostly), to have way too long of a minimum focusing distance for my use case, and to be tough to use with any kind of sharpness without a tripod (especially when the damn thing is not opening :P) – hence, mine is definitely not my “walk-around” lens. Maybe I should give it more shots, though (pun intended) – because for this kind of thing, it would definitely have been beneficial.

This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensHD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR
Focal length70mm
Exposure time1/100 s

Again, very straighforward edit. Hi, it’s a frog. It looks cozy.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Cozy Scavenger album! (Spoiler: it has A LOT of cats.)

52Frames – 2020-24 – Hands

The theme for 52Frames last week was Hands. My first idea was to go with hands on a keyboard; since we recently got a Switch, I changed my mind and went for the gaming picture!

My first images were with a fast shutter speed – I had taken a few with a slower one to see how it went, I liked them better, so I re-shot with slow shutter speed until I got one that I liked.

Thanks to Pierre for lending me his hands and bearing with me while I was taking pictures of his Wizard of Legend game ๐Ÿ˜‰

CameraPentax K-1 II
Lenssmc PENTAX-D FA 50mm F2.8 Macro
Focal length50mm
Exposure time0.5 s

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Toilet Paper

The “Toilet Paper” theme was from the start fairly uninspiring for me. As I’m writing this before the reveals, I’m sure a lot of my Scavenger crew will have wonderfully creative, silly and hilarious takes on the word (And, after publication: can confirm ๐Ÿ™‚ ). But that’s just… not me ๐Ÿ™‚ However, early in the Hunt, our cleaning lady had store a couple of rolls on top of the bathroom mirror (because the usual station under the sink was overflowing a bit). And that setup caught my eye for a reason in the morning shower, I went “huh”, and I knew what I wanted to do there – play the simplicity, the symmetry, the geometry – these are elements of aesthetics that speak to me, and for which that specific image could work.

Now, it so happens that the bathroom in which we have a shower (and hence the one we mostly use) has very messy reflections in the mirror – said shower, a wall in the middle, and the washing machine/tumble dryer tower. Luckily, the other bathroom is essentially a symmetrical of that one, with only a bathtub – so the mirror reflects the wall. Which works out, kind of.

Because obviously, the challenge there – getting a “clean” reflection in the mirror AND a “clean” geometry…. hrm. So as “boring” as this image may seem initially, it’s actually a composite ๐Ÿ˜‰ And it is the only composite I submitted to this hunt!

These are the two “original” images (minor RAW development applied only – and exposed VERY to the left):

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensHD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR
Focal length40mm
Exposure time1/40 s

(same settings block for both pictures.)

And these are the two images that ended up as layers in my GIMP window:

You’ll notice the disappearance of the shower holder and the geometry distortion to get the middle line of the mirror line up with the rolls in the final picture ๐Ÿ˜‰ All in all, I’m quite happy with this picture, because I managed to do what I wanted to do, despite non-trivial challenges. I’m not entirely happy with the visible lens flare (… probably lens flare?) in the middle of the image, but I didn’t manage to correct it cleanly, sooooo it stayed there ๐Ÿ™‚

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Toilet Paper Scavenger album!

Scavenger Hunt #28 – Matches

The interpretation of the theme is very straightforward, but I like this image a lot. It’s the first time I made lit matches pictures (and probably any kind of matches pictures). It made me somewhat nervous initially because of the fire hazard and, while it’s still literally playing with matches, I think the whole ordeal is safer than I initially thought – I probably struck more than 100 matches on that afternoon and I didn’t scare myself once.

I had started with a binder clip to hold the matches, but it was somewhat flimsy; Pierre suggested the third hand instead, and that worked out better. Bonus: while I was expecting it to not appear at all in the final picture, I ended up liking the aesthetics of it A Lot (to me it does have a strong Westworld vibe to it, and I’m all for it).

The final setup ended up looking a lot like this:

Third hand holding the matches, settled on a flimsy light tripod (but with a sturdy, flat tripod head), put on top of oven plates (there to catch ashes and whatever hot stuff may fall from the matches), water and fire blanket on hand, black background far enough that the probability that it accidentally catches fire is very low. And a lighter, because no way I’m going to actually strike the matches to light them in this setup ๐Ÿ™‚

And then I shot, re-shot, re-re-shot… Some setup also implied an extra Lume cube moving around at some point – the “out of the camera” images were better, but the reflections on the arm ended up being more distracting than useful. I now have a metric ton of fire pictures in different configurations. This is the original picture, with only minor RAW development operations:

CameraPentax K-1 II
LensHD PENTAX-D FA 24-70mm F2.8 ED SDM WR
Focal length63mm
Exposure time1/50 s

Nothing particularly fancy on the final edit – the dynamic range between the very bright flames flames and the third hand in the shadows was a bit tricky to handle, but not too bad.

For more interpretations of the theme, see the Matches Scavenger album!

52Frames – 2020-23 – Dancing

The theme for 52Frames this week was “Dancing”. My lack of inspiration and motivation was clear on this theme – although I don’t have much issues with taking selfies and self-portrait, the idea of using myself as a model for a dancing theme felt…. complicated (both technically and emotionally).

I was discussing the topic with Pierre (which is what I typically do when I lack inspiration – he’s full of ideas ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), I went “actually, I just need a wooden mannequin, pose it, take pictures, done” (such mannequins were used in ads for some wood wax called Ocedar and we do call them ‘bonhomme Ocedar’ – ‘Ocedar guy’ still ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) – and Pierre told me “well, you DO have LEGO Technic figures, which are fairly articulated too”. And: true.

So, I took my LEGO Technic figurine, posed it on a white background, took a couple of pictures, and spent most of the time creating the disco floor to pose it ๐Ÿ˜‰ Luckily and coincidentally, I had downloaded vector grids yesterday on Creative Market (because they were free yesterday, and still are until tomorrow): Grid 01 – that helped a lot in making the floor! I am also quite happy with the effect I managed to have when it comes to the fading in the distance and distant blur.

I’m not SUPER HAPPY with everything though – when I painted the black lines I didn’t compensate the thickness of the line for the perspective. It could probably have been done, but not with the approach I had taken (probably would have required a 3D deformation of a flat grid, that may have worked). I’m also not super happy with the integration of the LEGO guy – despite the shadow (that’s already “too much”, probably), he still looks like he’s hovering a bit. I don’t know how to fix that – it’s better with the shadow than without, but still far from flawless.

Still – theme for this week, DONE.

#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Short Story

I subscribed to the “I want to vote for the Hugo awards” tier of CoNZealand/Worldcon a few months ago, and the voter packets have just arrived! I don’t expect to be able to vote for all the awards, because there is A LOT of content, and not that much time until mid-July; but the Short Story one is definitely a “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to making my mind for the one I want to vote for. So I read all of them, and here’s my personal ranking!

The cool thing about short stories is that most of them are publicly available, so you can go and have a look too ๐Ÿ™‚ And the cool thing about Hugo-nominated stories is that they are all worth a read – I have my favorites and the ones I like less, but they are all objectively great works.

6. Do Not Look Back, My Lion – Alix E. Harrow

Eefa is a self-described good husband, but she’s fed up with her wife going to war, again, especially since said wife is pregnant, again. As you can probably see from this short description, there’s a fair amount of playing with/subverting traditional gender role clichรฉs in this short story – which I’m all in favor of. But, while it is very well-written, and while I actually like the characters, I get the impression that this is the main point of the story, and that I’d like a bit more plot. To be honest, and that probably says more about me than about the story… I was somewhat bored.

5. A Catalog of Storms – Fran Wilde

In Sila’s world, the way to weather storms is to name them and yell at them; but the weathermen who have this power end up being taken by the storms. This was for sure very poetic and I thought I would love this – but it ended up being somewhat confusing for me, and it didn’t move me much. Loved the lists of winds, though – these are beautiful. Oh, and the cover of the Uncanny in which this has been published is fantastic.

4. And Now His Lordship Is Laughing – Shiv Ramdas

In India during WWII, Apa, a Bengali old woman, makes jute dolls that caught the eye of the local governor – who won’t take no for an answer when he asks for one. This was the first story I read, and while I liked it a lot, I knew it would probably not get my vote. The story and the context are powerful, and the writing is superb and memorable, but this is not the kind of stories that I personally enjoy. The historical context makes it complicated for me – yes, I’m glad I read it because I suck at world history and anything that makes me aware of historical events and makes me look into them is welcome, and there’s no denying that these stories are important to tell and to read, but it doesn’t make the experience… comfortable. Not that reading should be comfortable, but I’ll admit that my own discomfort makes this short story lower in my rating that it probably deserves.

3. Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island – Nibedita Sen

Literally what the title says – a story of “cannibal women of Ratnabar Island” (and one who’s been brought to England), told as excerpts from an annotated bibliography. I found it very interesting how much story can be told and implied in such a short story. I absolutely loved to see the many sides of the story (that felt fun and quite cheeky), and I’d be very curious about a longer form – although a longer form would probably not deliver the same punch. And I was delighted by the form of this work. All in all, loved it.

2. As the Last I May Know – S.L. Huang

A story from the point of view of Nyma, a young girl who carries the codes for “seres missiles” in her chest: if the President wants to use said missiles, he has to kill her first to access them. It’s definitely a story built on a moral dilemma (which feels like some kind of variation of the trolley dilemma) as a major plot device, but there’s enough flesh given to the characters that it’s more than that. It’s a bleak story, but I’d qualify that as “softly bleak” – with more resignation and acceptance than hate and vengeance. And it was honestly a tough choice between this and the next one for the first place.

1. Blood Is Another Word for Hunger – Rivers Solomon

Sully, a teenage slave, mass-murders the family that owns her, and gives birth to Ziza, already a teenager at the time of her birth too. I feel like I should not have liked this story. For one thing, it’s quite graphical with a LOT of blood, and the premise is way more WTF than I usually like. And, as I mentioned in And Now His Lordship Is Laughing, historical context often makes me uncomfortable. And all in all, this is a strange and uncomfortable story – uncanny may be the right word – and yet haunting and beautiful and a real surprise when it comes to “I… I think I liked this a lot, although I can’t explain it”.

There, that’s all for me. As hinted at the beginning, I will actually be happy with any of these short stories winning the award. This is the first time I read the whole selection and get to have Opinions on this specific award, so I wouldn’t dare to bet on the winner ๐Ÿ˜‰ They’re all very solid choices; the general selection seems to be somewhat bleaker than what I usually enjoy in my fiction, but I can only recommend all of you to have a look at these if you’re in the market for some short bites to read.

โ€œHugo Awardโ€, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

#balisebooks backlog

I published a few stand-alone reviews recently (Otaku, Could be Something Good, Quiche of Death, The City We Became, Solving Sophronia), but I read much more than that in the past few months, so let’s get rid of the backlog with a couple of notes ๐Ÿ˜‰

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I had never read Pride and Prejudice, but it had been on my list for a while – it IS considered a classic, but it’s a classic with a “popular” reputation, as opposed to classics of the kind “I remember reading that during high school, Worst Book Ever” ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Bennet sisters, of their family, friends and acquaintances.

Hold Me and The Year of the Crocodile – Courtney Milan – still in the Cyclone series started with Trade me. I enjoyed both of these thoroughly, they’re cute as hell, funny, and nothing to not love there.

After Atlas – Emma Newman – second book of Planetfall, which happens on Earth with a few plot links to Planetfall itself. This is the story of Carlos, an indentured detective, who investigates a very gory murder. This was vastly different from Planetfall, still good, but far less memorable for me.

Naked in Death – J.D. Robb – first book of a Very Long Series (this thing has roughly 50 book, ongoing) – and J.D. Robb is also better known as Nora Roberts. It’s a pretty formulaic but very decent detective story in a close-ish futuristic/vaguely cyber world, starring Eve dallas as homicide detective, and overall it’s a good start for a “background series” I could see myself read for a long time.

Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston – a very cute romance involving the son of the President of the United States and the Prince of Wales. Think West Wing meets super cute and funny gay romcom. Loved it.

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed – Lori Gottlieb – I listened that one as an audiobook while wandering the streets of Zรผrich, and it seems plausible that audiobooks work quite well for me when it comes to autobiographies/memoirs. Gottlieb, as a therapist, goes through a pretty bad breakup (and finds a therapist to help her go through it), while at the same time works with various patients, more or less sympathetic, more or less broken, more or less tragic. I enjoyed that memoir thoroughly, although it could feel somewhat voyeuristic at times.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay – I honestly do not know how to talk about this. It feels weird and somewhat “wrong” to appreciate that much a book that tells about someone’s story and struggles in such a “raw” way. Definitely a powerful telling; a lot of trigger warnings (rape and food disorders, both with a fair amount of details), and a weird mix of heartbreak and power. I don’t see how I could recommend that book to anyone, but I’m very glad I read it.

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAnne Lamott – a collection of autobiographical essays/short chapters. Listened to that on Audible; definitely a mixed bag: about half of it I found funny or moving, and about half of it made me roll my eyes very loudly.

Valour and Vanity – Mary Robinette Kowal – fourth book of Glamourist histories. I didn’t enjoy that one as much as the previous ones – the heist theme didn’t do it for me.

Grown Ups – Marian Keyes – I will absolutely read everything Marian Keyes writes, and I read that in the weeks following its publication. A deftly woven dysfunctional family story, which I really really liked, but part of the ending was a tad too bittersweet for me (although it made perfect sense).

The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov – that one’s a re-read (of multiple re-reads). It’s the first “grown-up” science-fiction books I ever read, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s set in a distant future where Earth has the properly unsustainable population of 8 billion (heh ๐Ÿ™‚ ), and where a number of colonies have been spawned. The colonies have a kind of “embassy”, called Spacetown, where the access is very restricted – and yet, a murder occured. Earth Detective Elijah Baley gets pulled on the investigation, with the help of Daneel Olivaw – a positronic robot. For a book written in 1954, it obviously didn’t age perfectly, but it aged surprisingly well ๐Ÿ™‚ Definitely a classic.

The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov – I actually re-read Caves of Steel because I wanted to re-read Naked Sun (which is the second book in that series). In Naked Sun, Elijah and Daneel are sent to Solaria, a planet that has births very much under control, and on which only 10000 people live. The interesting thing is that the society evolved in a way that people never see each other physically, only “view” themselves via holographic projections. That kind of thing sounded very on point a few weeks ago (and still does, in some places and in some circumstances) – and I really liked the distinction between “see” and “view” in Solaria’s vocabulary. Also: I really like this book anyway ๐Ÿ˜€

All Systems Red and Artifical Condition – Martha Wells – I gave a new chance to the Murderbot series. I hadn’t been convinced by my first read of All Systems Red, and as I re-read it, I’m not sure why, because it’s great. We follow a Security Unit who dubs itself Murderbot, but who has essentially one goal in life: be left alone to watch the equivalent of Netflix ๐Ÿ™‚ Unfortunately, things don’t always go its way. It’s funny, it’s surprisingly wholesome, and I’ll definitely continue reading the others.

The Collapsing Empire / The Consuming Fire / The Last Emperox – John Scalzi – the third and last book of The Interdependency got published this month, so I re-read the first two to have them fresh in my mind. The Interdependency series sees a collision of two major events: there’s a new emperox, Grayland II, who was not exactly supposed to become emperox in the first place (she only did because her older brother died in a stupid accident); and the Flow, which constitutes the only way of traveling between all the star systems of the Empire, starts collapsing for unclear reasons, and it’s apparently unavoidable. The Interdependency series, with that premise, uses a cast of colorful characters and snarky writing to deliver a very satisfying story, which feels more like a very large book than like three distincts books.

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary – Leon and Tiffy enter a flatshare/bedshare agreement: Leon works nights as a palliative nurse, Tiffy works days as craft book editor, and they actually never meet… but end up having a full-blown correspondance on post-its. A great romcom, with some more sobering aspects (Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend is a Real Problem), but I enjoyed that book a lot – very cute and very funny, with great characters.

Solving Sophronia – Jennifer Moore

Look at that, it’s time for another NetGalley. I asked for this one solely on the fact that the cover was pretty and the title intriguing, and I’m very happy I did!

Solving Sophronia introduces the Blue Orchid Society – a group of high society ambitious women in end-of-19th-century London, who decide one fateful ball night to take their destinies into their own hands.

Lady Sophronia “Sophie” Bremerton, subject of this first book in the series, is a society columnist, but her ambition is to become an investigative reporter.

And it so happens that she runs into the scene of a crime, and that her deep knowledge of woman fashion leads to some very astute remarks. Jonathan Graham, the detective in charge of the investigation, doesn’t believe that civilians should be involved in police investigations, but he quickly sees the values of Sophie’s insights and connections.

I knew I had made the right call on that book from the dedication line, which was “For Margot, the Crabtree to my Higgins” – as a Murdoch Mysteries fan myself, this was a very good sign indeed. And Solving Sophronia definitely has a Murdoch mood to it – part of it is the era and context, obviously, but it runs deeper – to my delight.

The mystery and its investigation were interesting; the characters were lovable. The rhythm of the ending felt a bit off – and possibly a bit rushed. It didn’t impact much my enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked that Sophie’s strengths handled as “look what I can bring that is different” more than “look how I can do the same things as you”. But most of all, I loved the idea and the introduction of the Blue Orchid Society. I’m looking forward to the adventures of its other members!